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Medford airport sets record for June passengers

When United is in demand, Medford airport records fall.

For every two passengers flying the Friendly Skies a year ago, three made the journey in June, propelling the Medford airport to its highest monthly total ever of 80,273.

United Express operated by SkyWest Airlines racked up a 51.7 percent year-over-year increase, accounting for 25,177 passengers.

"There is demand, and we are always going to meet that demand," said Charlie Hobart, a United spokesman based in Chicago. "We were down in June 2014, rebounded in 2015 and saw them go up again last month."

The Embraer E175 jets provide first class options to San Francisco, rarely seen after United pulled its Boeing 737s out of Medford more than a decade ago.

"We're seeing very strong customer response to the new E175s," Hobart said.

"Along with that, SkyWest's on-time performance has improved from 61 percent to 68 percent, flying to San Francisco, where weather is an issue virtually year-round."

Whether the surge is short-lived or continues may determine whether United adds to its schedule of five daily departures to the Bay Area and two to Denver.

"We know it's competitive in that region," Hobart said. "When it comes to adding flights, it's complex, and the calculus involves a number of teams at United to figure out."

Fares to San Francisco can still be hard to swallow, but if travelers are flying beyond the Golden Gate, United can seem like a bargain.

Although Alaska Air provides alternative routes to San Francisco through Portland or Seattle, saving money takes more time.

"For the the businessman, usually the company is paying for it," said Jean Sargent of Rogue Valley Travel & Cruises. "But when it comes to the general public, everyone is looking for the best deal out there. If grandma is flying, she wants a good deal and doesn't mind going to Portland to save money. If Doctor Jones wants to go down there, he wants to get there now. It's a matter of convenience."

The airport's backbone carrier, Seattle-based Alaska, posted numbers consistent with last year, hauling more than 39,000 travelers in and out of the Rogue Valley.  Delta Connection, also operated by SkyWest, saw an 11.5 percent decline in passengers, while Allegiant Air gained 2.5 percent.

Airport Direct Bern Case anticipated hitting 80,000 in July, but not in June. The previous June record, set last year, was 72,463.

"I couldn't be happier with those numbers," he said.

For the year, the airport is running 10.1 percent ahead of the record 2015AIR pace with 565,816 passengers during the first six months. That mark was not surpassed for any full year until 2006.

Figures recently released by the Federal Aviation Administration show Medford was the 140th busiest commercial airport in the country in 2015, up from 149th in 2014. The FAA tracks 393 airports with annual enplanements of 10,000 or more.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.